Steampunking: Are Steampunk Westerns Non-Eurocentric? No

By Guest Contributor Jha, originally published at Rebellious Jezebel Blogging

My friend Ay-Leen the Peacemaker is putting together a project called Beyond Victoriana, which will focus on examples of steampunk beyond the typical Eurocentric sampling at the moment, which is predominantly centered around England. Ay-Leen is also taking examples of North American steampunk, and people are citing Wild West/Weird West examples, such as Wild Wild West (TV show and movie).

I myself suggested some Japanese examples which could be counted as steampunk, although I have several reservations about them myself. Mainly because when I think non-Eurocentric, I keep this in mind:

“… By Europeans, we refer not only to Europe per se, but also to the “neo-Europeans” of the Americas, Australia, and elsewhere. … The residual traces of centuries of axiomatic European domination inform the general culture, the everyday language, and the media, engendering a fictitious sense of the innate superiority of European-derived cultures and peoples.” (Ella Shohat / Robert Stam, Unthinking Eurocentrism, pg 1)

Somewhere on the next page:

“… [Eurocentric discourse] … renders history as a sequence of empires: Pax Romana, Pax Hispanica, Pax Britannica, Pax Americana.”

Which brings me to the question: are Wild West/Weird West examples really non-Eurocentric examples?

Geographically, this may well be the case since they’re not in Europe.

However, if we take into account all parties involved – the Chinese labourers, the Native Americans, the black slaves, and the descendents of Europeans (neo-Europeans), the power dynamics indicate very strongly that no matter how geographically removed America is from Europe, the power dynamics remain rested in the hands of the neo-Europeans, which renders Wild West examples that do not prominantly feature visible minorities still Eurocentric.

(Which is also why even the Japanese steampunk examples I cite may be Eurocentric after all – they tend to be Japanese interpretations of the Western steampunk aesthetic. This doesn’t make them non-Japanese steampunk examples – they were produced by Japanese people. As kaigou points out, these works are part of a body of literature by members of a specific group – in this case, Japanese (and thus, not European, nor even neo-European). So, it is Japanese steampunk. But does it mean they’re non-Eurocentric? Question for another day!)

Of course, detractors will disagree with me and accuse me of messing with details. But the fact remains – Eurocentrism doesn’t just mean geographically centered in Europe. Eurocentrism refers not just to geopolitical space, but also to narratives, culture, and discourse. Wild West / Weird West narratives which feature neo-European main characters, narratives and discourse are, thusly Eurocentric. However, it means that a Wild West narrative which features Native American / Aboriginal culture / discourse would be non-Eurocentric.

Hmmmm….. must seek such Native American appearances in steampunk media.